Wilcher and Sons Sawmill – Tennessee Sawmill Reaps Benefits of Brewco Resaw
ROCK ISLAND, Tennessee — A bonus is always appreciated, especially when it is unexpected.
Wilcher and Sons Sawmill put a new resaw into operation in the summer of 2007, and they realized the production gain they expected. But they got a bonus, too.
Doug Wilcher, president of the company, said there was no quick decision in selecting a Brewco B-1600 horizontal band resaw system. The decision making process was methodical and deliberate.
In contrast, the results with the Brewco B-1600 were immediate. “We went from 20 years behind the times, just hacking out boards” with a circle saw to modern technology and precision sawing, said Doug. The sawyers “struggled” to cut 7,000 to 8,000 board feet per day with the old mill but now they produce about 12,000 board feet or more easily. “I could certainly saw a lot more,” he said, “but I don’t want to in these markets. I’ve never had that luxury before.”
“At the end of the day, you have 20 percent more lumber,” said Doug. In addition, lumber quality improved significantly; the percentage of ‘uppers’ increased at least 25%, he said.
Doug was persuaded of the Brewco’s capability several years ago. “I was sold on the Brewco five years ago,” he said, but the other owners of the sawmill carefully weighed the investment decision for a number of years.
“I’m always the one looking around the corner,” Doug said. The objective in investing in a machine is to “get more out of what you’re doing.”
Wilcher and Sons Sawmill is owned by Doug and his three siblings, Debra McBride, Tim Wilcher and Joey Wilcher. Doug and Tim, vice president, manage the day-to-day operations of sawmill, and Debra heads up the operation of a two-year-old affiliated business, Wilcher Quality Metal & Building Materials, which is located two miles from the sawmill. Joey is employed outside the family-owned businesses, but as a stockholder in the company, he has a say in major decisions.
Raymond Wilcher, their father, started the business in 1978. “My father passed away in 2002,” said Doug. “It put a damper on everything for a while.” After taking some time to regroup, the siblings began to prepare for making some changes to the mill and improving it for the future.
Doug and Tim have been acquainted with Brewco and its equipment for 10 years or more. One of the company’s biggest selling points is its thin kerf sawing capability, said Doug. The B-1600 runs a 2-inch blade with 0.082-inch kerf. One of the main reasons for buying the machine was the narrow kerf.
Wilcher and Sons sells most of its lumber wholesale to concentration yards. All lumber is sold green. “We sell grade lumber for consolidation yards,” said Doug. That is the core business, but the company also sells pallet cants, 3×3 timbers, pre-cut pallet stock, and other lumber products. Some customers have very specific requirements. “We sell to a lot of companies that want stuff resawn to close tolerances and different dimensions, and this resaw will hold those tight tolerances,” said Doug.
The company also manufactures a small volume of pallets, which account for about 5% of sales. Pallets are assembled by hand with Stanley-Bostitch pneumatic nailing tools. The pallets are supplied to one customer with a variety of needs that can accept wood of many kinds.
The pallet segment of the business serves two purposes, Doug explained. “When something is down at the mill,” there is work for the 11 employees. “And we get rid of our low-grade material.”
Wilcher and Sons cuts hardwood and softwood, red and white oak, poplar and yellow pine. Tim oversees the buying of ‘gate wood’ logs from contractors. “We buy any kind of logs,” said Doug. Wilcher and Sons Sawmill also buys standing timber and contracts for logging. The company usually buys logs in 2-foot increments from 8-16 feet long.
The Brewco B-1600, operated by one worker, is designed to resaw cants up to 16×16 and 16 feet long into high quality lumber. Yield improves dramatically over a circle saw head rig due to the thin kerf band blades, and production increases because the head rig only opens up the log.
The Brewco B-1600 has proven to be a valuable investment for Wilcher and sons. “It’s probably one of the best decisions we ever made,” said Doug.
The company has been using two types of blades on the new resaw. “We have used (Suffolk Machinery) Timber Wolf® blades and Simonds blades,” said Doug.
Sawing on the circle mill limited the company’s capability. “We had to saw from the inside,” said Doug. That required working with a set sawing pattern that squandered opportunities to get the best lumber from every log. Being able to resaw the cants from the outside enables the company to produce more grade lumber.
The company made other changes and improvements when it added the Brewco system. “We remodeled the whole mill,” said Doug. Another key investment was an edger — a used Edmistons edger with a laser guide system. The company also added some used conveyors and green chains.
Modifications to some of the equipment and metal fabrication was done partly by the mill staff and also Ernest Bost and his son, Darrell. The Bosts, long-time friends of the Wilchers, operate a farm and do metal fabrication.
When they decided to make improvements to the mill, the Wilchers also received technical assistance from Brewco sales manager Bill Hendrix. He advised the company based on the best practices he had seen at mills of other customers.
Doug already knew Bill before the family decided to buy the Brewco resaw because he had considered Brewco’s equipment for a number of years. The two men got to know each other over the years even though Wilcher and Sons was not a Brewco customer yet. Bill visited the company’s mill a number of times.
“He was never pushy at all,” Doug recalled. “He was very patient with us. He said, ‘When you’re ready, we’ll be ready.’”
Bill made a visit to Wilcher and Sons the day before Doug talked with TimberLine. He observed the Brewco B-1600 in operation and made a few adjustments.
Brewco and its staff are attentive to the needs of the company, said Doug. “I consider Bill a friend.”
The sawmill is situated on five acres and has 9,600 square feet under roof among four buildings – the mill, two shops and an office. The mill operations begin with an HMC debarker. The head rig
consists of a Lane carriage and a Frick manual head saw with Silvatech setworks and controls.
Slabs and edgings are fed to a Precision 48-inch chipper, and the chips are sold to mills. Sawdust is sold to nursery or landscape businesses in the region, and some sawdust is sold to farmers. Bark is sold to another business that processes it into mulch.
For material handling the company has a pair of Case W-30 loaders and a Case forklift.
The only trucking the company does itself is from the mill to local consolidation yards. For that transport, Wilcher depends on two tractors, a Freightliner and a Volvo.
Piper’s Saw Shop supplies bandsaw blades and also services the mill’s head saw. Tim services the band blades that run on the Brewco. “We bought a setter and sharpener with the installation,” said Doug.
Day-to-day, Doug and Tim are always ready to pitch in as needed — anywhere. “We oversee everything from A-Z,” said Doug. Employees maintain and service the sawmill equipment. “Every one of my guys, we all work together,” said Doug. The mill foreman is long-time employee Rusty Kennedy.
Rock Island, a community of just under 4,200 people, is located slightly east of the center of the Volunteer State.
Tim and Doug have some cattle, but their focus is the sawmill. “In 1977, I started logging right after high school,” said Doug, following a few months working in a factory.
Doug has a son, Shane, who is studying at a community college and also works part-time at the mill, where he is learning to saw. Family involvement is important, said Doug. “You walk away with more than a paycheck,” he explained. The “more” includes learning how to solve problems and work with others.
Raymond was a farmer who ventured into logging before eventually starting the sawmill. The logging operations consisted largely of felling and limbing timber by hand with chain saws and skidding the wood to a landing. The family got out of the logging part of the business in 1994.
Two years ago the owners of Wilcher and Sons launched their second business, Wilcher’s Quality Metal & Building Supply, which is also located in Rock Island. The business sells lumber, metal roofing, wood and steel trusses, tools and more. Debra manages the company.
The Brewco B-1600 is a wonder, said Doug. “I don’t know how to describe the satisfaction I get watching this machine. The lumber is so true, so straight. The concentration yards we sell to are happier now. The better looking the lumber is, the better it sells.”
The Brewco B-1600 has a long list of features. They include the company’s patented floating guide system, 40 hp electric drive motor, 50 hp hydraulic unit, 40-inch band wheels, three-sprocket hold-down, computer-controlled blade coolant system, air strain tensioning and more. The control station includes Brewco servo setworks and dual ultrasonic cant scanning system that adjusts feed speed and guides based on cant width; controls consist of industrial touch sensitive computer screen, joysticks, e-stop five-way buttons and three-way selector switch.
An outfeed separator on the Brewco B-1600 performs all combinations of functions the sawyer requires to keep board production going at maximum speed. It sends a board to the green chain and returns the cant or sends a board to the edger and returns the cant. It can also send both the board and cant to an edger or return the board and the cant or exit the board and cant.
The Brewco run-around system comes complete with a return separator, too. It can return a cant to the turning area, send the cant to a storage deck or load a new cant from the storage deck.
Doug enjoys the sawmill business for many reasons. He enjoys dealing with loggers as well as lumber customers and likes making friendships with new people. He enjoys being a hands-on business owner and manager, too.
The Wilcher businesses have a strength that stems from family, according to Doug. ”Our father and mother were both big influences in our lives,” he said. “Our father said it doesn’t matter how much you own if you don’t have friends and family. Treat everyone the same whether they have one dollar or one million dollars.”